Daily Fantasy NASCAR: Federated Auto Parts 400 Driver Preview
Two of the biggest pillars of driver selection in daily fantasy NASCAR are track history and current form. Knowing where drivers sit on both of those spectrums is going to make our lineups look a whole lot nicer at the end of the race.
By looking at which drivers have excelled at this week's track in the past and those who are currently racing well, we can know which drivers are in line to be good plays for the slate. That's what we're going to try to do today, dividing drivers into those two buckets with noteworthy track history or noteworthy current form.
Clearly, this isn't to say that all of these drivers will be great plays in this race. A lot of that will be dictated by where they start and the scoring history at that track. To read more about what strategies we need to deploy based on starting position, check out this week's track preview.
Later in the week, once qualifying is in the books, we'll go through the top plays for the race based on all of these factors. But which drivers should we be keying on for the time being? Let's check it out. Here are drivers we should monitor for the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond.
Kyle Busch (FanDuel Price: $13,800), Kevin Harvick ($13,600), and Martin Truex Jr. ($13,200): You could make a strong argument that Brad Keselowski belongs in "The Big Three" now with three straight wins under his belt. We'll get to him in the section on current form. But it's hard not to view these three as still being the favorites entering Richmond.
It's hard to find separation between any of these drivers based on how they've performed at Richmond, but Kyle Busch should likely lead things off. He won here this spring despite starting all the way back in 32nd, still managing to pump out a 6th-place average running position. He has had a top-six average running position at Richmond in five of the past six races (and was 10th in the one exception). Busch was also strong at the two tracks most similar to Richmond (Phoenix and New Hampshire, the two flatter, short tracks on the schedule) earlier in the year with a top-five average running position in both. It's easy to dig Busch entering the weekend.
With that said, Busch didn't win at New Hampshire and Phoenix. Both those checkered flags went to Kevin Harvick, and he tends to run well in Richmond, too. Harvick has finished exactly fifth -- not worse or better -- in four of the past five races at the track. That hasn't come with a ton of laps led, but with how stout Harvick has been this whole season, we can never rule that out.
Even though Martin Truex Jr. is the lone driver in "The Big Three" who has never won at Richmond, his numbers here are straight bonkers. In the past five Richmond races, Truex has led 512 laps; no other driver has led more than 258. This has allowed Truex to have a top-seven average running position in four straight Richmond races, including three races of fourth or better. He had the strongest car last week in Las Vegas and had a top-five average running position in both Phoenix and New Hampshire. Don't let the lack of trips to victory lane here for Truex trick you into thinking he's not as good as Busch and Harvick.
If you're ranking these three drivers entering the weekend, Busch's win at Richmond in the spring and strong runs overall at flat tracks are enough to give him the slight edge. But Truex likely belongs second on that list after a nice rebound last week. Harvick's third, but he's just as likely to lead laps if he can put himself at the front of the field in qualifying.
Denny Hamlin ($13,000): The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is already in the second race of the playoffs, and Denny Hamlin is still looking for his first win of the year. He hasn't been winless in a season since his 2005 rookie campaign. That could change this weekend if Hamlin's track record at Richmond is any indication.
Hamlin has six straight top-six finishes in Richmond, including four straight top-fives. He won the 2016 fall race, leading 189 of 407 laps, and took home a 3rd-place finish in this year's spring race.
Hamlin wrecked in Vegas, putting him 16th in playoff points with two races before the first cutoff. A win would ensure Hamlin's advance to the second round, and with a complete wild card lurking next week at the Charlotte road course, Hamlin's team will be in desperation mode. He's absolutely a name to monitor once practices get started.
Daniel Suarez ($9,200): It seems like all of Joe Gibbs Racing has Richmond figured out. We've already talked about Busch and Hamlin, and Erik Jones ($10,800) finished sixth here in last year's fall race (though that was while racing for Gibbs' partner team of Furniture Row Racing). Let's round out this group by discussing Daniel Suarez.
Suarez is looking for a new ride next year with Truex likely to join Gibbs Racing, and he could use this weekend as an audition tape. In 3 races at Richmond, Suarez's worst finish is 12th with a pair of top-10s in the other 2 outings. He finished 10th after starting 26th in the spring race.
Before that, Suarez also notched an eighth-place finish in Phoenix. New Hampshire didn't go as well with Suarez finishing 22nd, but he has since had a pair of top-five finishes in Pocono and Watkins Glen. This is a good chance for Suarez to show he deserves a ride for 2019.
Matt Kenseth ($7,500): The last time we saw Matt Kenseth in the seat, he was pushing out easily his best run of the year. He had a 14th-place average running position and 12th-place finish in Indianapolis, a track that requires plenty of speed and good equipment. Richmond is more dependent on the driver, and Kenseth knows how to get around here.
As mentioned earlier, Truex leads all drivers with 512 laps led at Richmond the past 5 races. But Kenseth's the driver in second with 258 even though he didn't race here in the spring. Kenseth's likely not a threat to do that with his equipment at Roush Fenway Racing, but he can better compete here despite his equipment than he can at faster tracks.
In this same car, Trevor Bayne raced to a 13th-place finish last week, tied for his second-best run of the year. It's possible Kenseth has helped the team unlock more speed, allowing us to view him a bit more favorably entering the weekend than we have previously.
William Byron ($7,100): We'll talk about Chase Elliott's run on flat tracks this year later because they're abundantly noteworthy. He's not the only guy at Hendrick Motorsports, though, who has feasted at these types of places.
William Byron almost pulled off a big run in the spring Richmond race. After starting ninth, Byron ran up near the front most of the day. A pit road speeding penalty pushed him backward, but Byron rebounded to finish 12th. He was also 12th in Phoenix and 14th in New Hampshire.
As mentioned in this week's track preview, there's a bit of a scoring "dead zone" for drivers starting between 6th and 15th. If Byron starts there, his upside will definitely be capped. That said, he could still post a good finish, and that counts for points, as well, and he's an absolute baller if he starts 16th or lower.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,600): Ricky Stenhouse Jr. may be a strange driver to discuss in either section as he is riding back-to-back finishes of 30th or worse and finished 23rd at Richmond in the spring. But there are still reasons to buy into him at this price.
Stenhouse is one of the drivers who tends to get a boost whenever the circuit heads to a track that de-emphasizes equipment. We know what he can do at Bristol and Talladega. Richmond's not quite on that level, but he has run well here recently.
Stenhouse has had an average running position of 18th or better in 6 straight Richmond races. That includes a 14th-place average running position en route to a 4th-place finish in last year's spring race. He runs well here, but the volatile nature of his driving style can sometimes mask that with poor finishes. We can accept those risks with Stenhouse's price being this low, so don't be afraid to latch on if he's in position to get some place-differential points.
Brad Keselowski ($14,000): Last week, we asked if Keselowski had put himself into the same tier as Busch, Harvick, and Truex with back-to-back wins. Now, he has added a third trophy to his resume. It's getting harder and harder to deny him a spot in that upper echelon.
Keselowski has won all three of these races without ever having the best car in any individual race. His average running positions have been sixth or worse in each whereas his teammate, Joey Logano ($12,700), has had a top-five average running position twice in that span. This is both a pro and a con for Keselowski.
The positive spin is that Keselowski can grind out a win even when he doesn't have elite speed via pit strategy and other means. The alternative, though, is that Keselowski hasn't flashed tons of laps-led upside, which is a must at this price. It makes him a hard asset to assess.
Keselowski's best finish at one of our three short, flat tracks this year was an eighth in Richmond. Clearly, though, Penske Racing has picked up speed since that time. We shouldn't view Keselowski as being in that next tier until he shows the ability to completely dominate a race, but if he winds up being fast in practice on Friday, it'll be hard to stay away this weekend.
Chase Elliott ($12,200): Chase Elliott's overall record at Richmond won't suck you in much with just two top-10s and one top-five in six starts. But that one top-five finish was this year, and he has been filthy at tracks like this overall.
Elliott has logged eight top-five finishes all year, and three of them have come at the three races at shorter flat tracks. He was third in Phoenix, second in Richmond, and fifth in New Hampshire. Elliott made a run at a win in New Hampshire, winning his first stage of the year and leading 23 laps with a 4th-place average running position. Given how well Elliott has run since then, it's clear that we should consider him a legit threat to win on Saturday night.
Aric Almirola ($11,000): Aric Almirola is the reduced-calorie version of Chase Elliott. Both have been crazy good on flat tracks this year, driving up interest in them entering the weekend.
Almirola almost won at New Hampshire and may have if not for a poor late-race pit stop. He led 42 laps in that one and had a 7th-place average running position. This was after Almirola had a ninth-place average running position in Richmond and finished seventh in Phoenix.
Richmond was actually a strong track for Almirola before he joined Stewart-Haas Racing this year, too. He was ninth in last year's spring race with lesser equipment at Richard Petty Motorsports, and he was fourth in the 2015 fall race. Almirola has talent, and now that he has enough equipment to let that talent flourish, we should be willing to buy him at $11,000.
Regan Smith ($6,400): Regan Smith has filled in for Kasey Kahne the past two races due to Kahne's dehydration issues, and Smith has been admirable in the seat of the Leavine Family Racing car.
With little notice and no practice time, Smith went to Indianapolis and logged an impressive 20th-place finish. He followed that up with a 12th-place run last week in Las Vegas, the best finish this team has had at a non-restrictor-plate track this year. And both those races were at tracks where speed is necessary, which puts them at a disadvantage relative to the competition.
This will be Smith's first race at Richmond since 2016 and only his third since 2012. It has certainly not been his best track. But he has this car running hot, and his price is cheap, so we shouldn't dismiss Smith if he starts outside the top 20 and can snag us some place-differential points.